Recently in Law Category

Credit Jarred
March 5, 2013 9:52 PM | Posted in: ,

I was looking forward to an evening at home, taking care of some chores and perhaps doing some blogging, and instead I spent most of it changing credit card information and passwords on our myriad online accounts. (OK, I might have also done some blogging.) Yep...one of our credit cards was compromised this morning, and someone ran up almost $800 in bogus charges.

This stock photo was stolenFortunately, I had set up an email alert for charges exceeding a certain amount, and so I was notified immediately when the first misuse hit the account. I couldn't access the credit card website from the office (not because it was blocked; I didn't have the login info with me, an oversight that has now been corrected), so I couldn't confirm the full amount of the damage until I got home.

The credit card company assured me that we wouldn't be liable for the charges, and immediately canceled the card and will send us a new one, although it will be about a week before it arrives. In the meantime, not knowing how the miscreant got hold of our card info, an abundance of caution dictates that we not only change out the credit card information on all of our online accounts, but also change passwords on those accounts.

It's probably just as well. Over the years, I've developed a bad habit of using the same password - or very similar variations - for almost all my accounts. In hindsight, "Hello1" is probably not the best choice for a password to all of our financial accounts. This episode is a good excuse to remedy that, and I'm generating unique strong passwords for the updated accounts.

Another thing I'm doing is providing answers to security questions that are lies (which came surprisingly easy, much to my dismay; I'm obviously going to have to start paying better attention in Sunday School). So, my first pet's name is Hooligan X1 Banana*, and the hospital where I was born is Chocolate DVD Pigsty**. If you're providing the actual real answers to security questions, you're providing one more piece of the puzzle to potential identity thieves.

None of these techniques work very well if you can't remember what you've set up, and if you've created properly strong passwords and random security question answers, you won't be able to remember them. Invest in a good password management app (and set a super-strong password on it...one that you can remember!) and then go wild with the new passwords.

By the way, the bogus charges were incurred at Shutterstock.com, a website for purchasing stock photos and videos. I mean, who steals a credit card and uses it to buy pictures of daffodils in snowfields, or dinner plates in primary colors, or even photos of kittens with disbelieving expressions? Yes, I was apparently burgled by a designer. How ironic is that?

*Yeah, right.
**Ditto.

The Stupidity Cycle Pedals Onward
May 16, 2012 5:48 AM | Posted in: ,

I don't know why I waste my time reading Facebook comments (other than those left on my own posts; all of my friends are consistently intelligent and full of grace). The level of sheer stupidity and/or cluelessness is enough to make one weep for the future of our society. But, like a moth drawn to a nuclear reactor in full meltdown, I can't seem to resist, and so I found myself scrolling through the comments on a question posed by one of our local TV stations, to wit:

The "Ride of Silence" will start at 7PM tonight, from the UTPB CEED Building at SH 191 & FM 1788. What do you think needs to be done to improve bicycle safety?

The "Ride of Silence" is a bicycle ride honoring the memory of cyclists who have been killed in Midland county. (One of those, George Hoffman, was a high school classmate in Fort Stockton.)

I hoped to see some constructive suggestions in the comments, perhaps along the lines of "motorists need to exercise more caution," or "drivers need to stop texting while driving," but instead I saw a string of complaints about having to share the road with those idiot bicycle riders. Meh. I've heard all that before, but then I saw this comment, and couldn't help going into Mel Gibson Answering Machine mode:

Screen capture of stupid Facebook comment

I've blurred the name of the, um, fellow who left this stupefyingly inaccurate comment, to spare him the embarrassment of being recognized as someone who can't sit on a bicycle saddle because his head is in the way.

My response was simple and to the point (as well as utterly ineffective, I have no doubt): You don't have a clue about Texas vehicle laws, do you? Misinformed people help make bicycling more dangerous than it needs to be.

I believe that. If a driver sets out with the mindset that all bicyclists who ride in the street or attempt to exercise the same rights as a motorist are lawbreakers, he or she will be angry, and that anger will affect their driving, perhaps unconsciously but still in a real and dangerous manner.

I've ridden more than 25,000 miles through the years on the streets and highways of Midland and Ector counties, and can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've felt threatened by drivers. In every case, I could sense a tangible, if inexplicable expression of anger on the part of the motorist who was intent on putting me in harm's way, and I suspect they were driving under the same misconceptions held by the ignorant fool who posted the comment shown above.

I would have thought that by now we didn't have to re-plow the Texas Bicycle Laws furrow, but there's apparently a need for continuing education. For those who already know this, you can move along, but for anyone googling something like "idiot bicyclists who don't know the laws of Texas" perhaps you'll follow this link and learn something that will cause you to adjust your attitude. Based on what I see on Facebook, it's a hope held in vain, but I must try.

And if you're too lazy or disinterested to follow the link, I'll simply sum up the relevant law: Texas bicyclists are considered vehicles (NOT pedestrians, Mr. Used To Be A Bike Racer In Abilene), and as such have the same responsibilities AND rights as motorists, unless specifically legislated otherwise.

If I seem a little exercised about this issue, please understand that for many of us, this is a matter of life and death.

Frac Reporting - Loophole?
February 1, 2012 5:29 PM | Posted in: ,

As we've reported before, today marks the beginning of mandatory reporting of the components of fluid used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells drilled in Texas. A careful reading of the regulations indicates that you shouldn't hold your breath to see what's going into that well that's planned for your back yard. Even if it's permitted today, the actual reporting of frac fluid isn't required until the well completion report is filed with the State; an operator has up to 90 days following the drilling of a well to file a completion report. However, the so-called Chemical Disclosure Registry form must be completed and uploaded to www.fracfocus.org at the same time the completion report is filed -- although there's nothing preventing companies from doing it sooner.

The regulations allow a company to claim that the identity and/or proportion of frac fluid ingredients is a "trade secret" and is therefore exempt from detailed reporting. Even then, the regs specify that "the chemical family or other similar description associated with such chemical ingredient must be provided." And regardless of trade secret status, the identity and proportions of all ingredients must be disclosed to "any health professional or emergency responder who needs the information for diagnostic, treatment or other emergency response purposes."

At the same time, land surface owners where the well is drilled, as well as landowners adjacent to that location, can challenge the trade secret designation by completing and submitting certain information (the regs suggest, but don't require, this format [PDF]). Interestingly, you don't have to explain why you want to make the challenge, and you have up to 24 months after the date the well completion report is filed to submit a challenge. 

Now, my reading of this section of the regulations is that if the office of the Texas Attorney General determines that the withheld information is not entitled to trade secret status, the information must be disclosed...but only to the requestor who challenged the status. This would seem to be a rather large loophole; there's no provision for a retroactive public disclosure on fracfocus.org.

I suspect that those companies who historically have played fast and loose with regulations (you know who you are...and many of us also know who you are) will do the same with this one. The majority will shoot for full compliance. But there may be an interesting dynamic involved, because the portion of the regs dealing with trade secrecy  seems to give equal status to "a supplier, service company, or operator," and each of these participants in the process might have different objectives and agendas.
As you've probably already heard, the Texas Railroad Commission (the oversight agency for the Texas oil and gas industry, for the non-Texians in the audience) today approved a regulation that will require the public disclosure of chemical ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells permitted on or after February 1, 2012 [read the RRC's news release]. This is a groundbreaking (no pun intended) move that, among other things, demonstrates that the industry can work in harmony with traditionally adversarial groups when it wants to. These regulations were widely supported not only by environmental and public advocacy groups, but also by oil and gas operators.

The report from the hearing [PDF] in which the final rules were approved makes for interesting reading, especially the sections documenting the public comments regarding the proposed regulations. (One item of note is Exxon's hearty approval of the rules, despite the fact that they are not one of the companies [PDF] who is currently voluntarily providing the information.) Update: Sorry; I just noticed that Exxon is actually listed under the entry for XTO Energy.

Many people may not realize that about eighty oil and gas companies doing business in Texas have already been voluntarily making these disclosures via a website called FracFocus. Not every well fracked by these companies is listed, but there's a big database already being built, and a very user-friendly interface for searching for wells in a given geographic area to find out what's being pumped into the ground to make the wells more productive. This same website will become the vehicle for the required reporting under the new regulations. 

I think it's safe to say that the Texas regulations will become a model for other states to follow as they deal with concerns over hydraulic fracturing (which, by the way, has been around for 60 years, has been applied to more than a million completions, and which has never - in Texas, anyway - been linked to groundwater contamination, regardless of what propaganda like the "documentary" Gasland would have us believe). This action will also probably head off federal intervention which would undoubtedly be more onerous and less logical.

I expressed support for public disclosure on this site a year ago. I thought it was a wise idea then, while I was a non-industry worker, and I still do, as an oil and gas company employee (a company that is already voluntarily disclosing frac ingredients via the FracFocus website).

However...

I doubt that disclosure of the list of chemical ingredients is going to be of much practical use to most people. A list of obscure compounds simply won't be meaningful to the layperson. For example, let's look at the Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Product Component Information Disclosure sheet [PDF] for SM Energy's University 7 Berkley #6 well located in Andrews County, just north of Odessa. SM Energy is my employer, by the way; it's only fair to use one of our own wells in this example.

The Berkley #6 is an oil well with a vertical depth of almost two miles. During the completion process, the formation was fractured using a solution of over 700,000 gallons of water (an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds only about 600,000 gallons), into which was mixed a combination of 27 additional substances, ranging from the mundane (citric acid) to the exotic (dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid, cytclohexene, and alkylaryl ethoxylate). Some of these substances comprised as little as .0005% of the total injected volume, or the equivalent of less than four gallons. I don't know about you, but I really can't assess whether this concentration of 2-butoxyethanol or sodium metaborate is a bad thing or not. This stuff is 10,000' underground, with several million (billion?) tons of rock on top of it. How can I assess the risk of having a chemical that, for all I know, occurs naturally elsewhere, pumped in relatively minute quantities into a deep hole in the ground?

If you looked at the above-linked PDF, you may have noticed a column labeled "Chemical Abstract Service Number (CAS #)." The CAS is a division of the American Chemical Society, and it maintains a database (registry) of more than 60 million substances. If you can access this database, you can learn a bit about the nature of these substances. Unfortunately, you have to be a paid subscriber to access the official CAS registry; fortunately, other organizations are more altruistic and offer alternative methods of access. The best CAS search engine I've found is provided by the National Institute of Health's PubChem service. Simply type the CAS # into the search box, click "Go," and on the resulting page, click the "Full Report" link to get more information about the chemical than you probably ever wanted to know.

I'm of the opinion that giving the public more information is almost always better than giving it less, even if that information might be subject to misinterpretation or even misuse. Our industry stands to lose a lot more than it might gain by continuing to keep fracking contents secret.

Concealed Handgun License Renewal
July 6, 2011 8:32 AM | Posted in: ,

Around the same time that Janie was qualifying for her Concealed Handgun License (CHL), Debbie and I were taking the renewal class. Texas CHLs are generally good for five years, but through a quirk in the scheduling and the way our birthdays fell, we got only about 4½. So we found ourselves at Gaylene Stansberry's renewal class on a Monday evening for the 5 hour refresher course required by state law.

Contrary to what you might think, the Texas CHL process is geared toward convincing you that using a handgun against another person is a Very Serious Idea. The educational classes focus on the legal and emotional implications of carrying and using a gun for self-defense. If one is paying the least bit of attention, one will leave the class understanding the full burden of responsibility that accompanies the decision to carry a concealed weapon. It's not glamorous nor exciting.

The renewal class is mostly geared toward any recent changes in Texas laws and regulations concerning concealed carry (for example, since we took the first class, Texas now has a statute that allows anyone to carry a handgun in their car, for any reason and for any duration, provided they're not subject to other restrictions on handgun ownership. Previously, you had to be "traveling," and the definition for that term was the subject of ongoing debate). And there's the expected refresher on the basic rules for concealed carry, and a focus on the difference between the use of "force" and "deadly force" in a self-defense scenario...along with the aforementioned implications of what to expect if you decide to use the latter.

Screenshot of CHL renewal status
Even so, the class did have its moments of levity. At the beginning, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and giving one reason why we each decided to renew our permits. Most had the expected usual reasons of not wanting to be a victim, or wanting to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights, but some were, well, a little different. More than one person mentioned that they'd never gotten a speeding ticket since they got their CHLs; police and DPS officers seem to be more willing to cut you some slack if you have a CHL. You can guess at the possible reasons for this, and I've never experienced the phenomenon personally (perhaps only because I've not been pulled over since I got my CHL), but the anecdotal evidence to support it is plentiful. I'm not suggesting that if you have a leaden foot you should run out and get your CHL, but a couple of speeding tickets would more than pay for the course and the license fee.

The class went well, although we ran behind schedule which meant that some of the students were doing their target shooting in the dark. I was a little disappointed in my shooting performance, shooting a few points less than the first time around, but I do have an excuse.

The guy to my immediate left on the shooting range was a rancher who was firing a Kimber .45 auto (complete with a laser sight). It's a beautiful gun, and he knew what he was doing; he was extremely accurate - in two directions. You see, the Kimber ejects its brass straight out to the right, and I was right in the line of "fire." Almost every time he fired, a spent cartridge would plink me in the head. One even caught me in the eye just as I pulled the trigger, resulting in a complete miss. I realize that I shouldn't have been distracted by something like that; it wasn't painful or dangerous, but I wasn't ready for it and so it affected my shooting. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, we all passed both the classroom and shooting tests, and our renewed licenses should be on their way very soon. The Texas CHL website provides an updated status of the process, and we hit the final milestone less than two weeks after submitting our paperwork.

I suspect you may have a simple question at this point: "Do you generally carry a concealed handgun?" The answer is equally simple: "It's none of your business, but the important thing is that the bad guys don't know the answer either." Uncertainty often equals deterrence, and crime/conflict avoided is an even better solution than that which is confronted and defeated.
We wrote about this last year when the IRS first announced the list of nonprofit organizations who were in danger of losing their tax-exempt status due to failure to file some required paperwork. At that time, the list contained about 150 organizations that had listed Midland as their headquarters. 

This is a potentially big deal for such organizations because it means that donations are not tax deductible, which in turn could affect their income if their donors find out, and could affect their donors if they don't (those IRS tax audits are probably not much fun).

The IRS has now published its "Automatic Revocation of Exemption List" and it still has 108 Midland organizations. You can either go to the IRS website and download the two big spreadsheets for Texas, and do a sort to find the Midland-based groups, or you can just scroll down this post. Personally, the latter seems to be an easier path.

I suspect many of these organizations are defunct so this won't matter one whit. I know some aren't, because we're members of at least one of them. Can you guess which one?

Note: I realize that some of the following organization names are incomplete, but that's how they appear on the IRS spreadsheets. The spreadsheets have EINs so if you're really curious and diligent, you can search for a cross-reference to identify the organization.

  • 710 A A GROUP
  • 951ST FIELD ARTILLERY BATTALION
  • AMATEUR ATHLETIC UNION OF THE
  • AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS
  • AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF BANKING-
  • AMERICAN PRAISE INC
  • AMERICAN REVOLUTION BICENTENNIAL
  • ARTWALK MIDLAND INC
  • AUXILIARY TO THE NURSING HOME
  • BALLET MIDLAND
  • BASIN FILM SOCIETY INC
  • CHARLES TOLBERT MINISTRIES INC
  • CHARM BEST KAZSUK MEMORIAL
  • CHILDRENS ACHIEVEMENT CENTER
  • CHINA FOUNDATION INC
  • CHOICES FOR CHILDREN INC
  • CHRISTIAN OILMANS ASSOCIATION
  • CIRCLE S RODEO MINISTRIES INC
  • COMMITTEE OF TEXAS INDEPENDENTS INC
  • CREAGER FAMILY FOUNDATION
  • CRITICAL INCIDENT STRESS MANAGEMENT
  • CROWN ROYAL HISPANIC SOCIETY
  • D L CRADDOCK EVANGELISTIC
  • FREEWILL FOSTER HOME INC
  • GREATER MIDLAND FOOTBALL LEAGUE
  • HIS HANDS EXTENDED
  • HISPANICS FOR OPPORTUNITY PROGRESS
  • HOPE FOR GIRLS GROUP HOME INC
  • ISA-THE INSTRUMENTATION SYSTEMS AND
  • JUST DANCE COUNTRY CLUB
  • KEY ENERGY SERVICES INC VACATION PL
  • LIFE CHANGE ASSOCIATES INC
  • LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL INC
  • MARINE CORPS LEAGUE
  • MIDLAND ALLIANCE FOR THE MENTALLY
  • MIDLAND APARTMENT ASSOCIATION INC
  • MIDLAND AREA EXXON ANNUITANTS CLUB
  • MIDLAND AREA FOUNDATION INC
  • MIDLAND BLAST SOCCER CLUB
  • MIDLAND CHAPTER OF AMEICAN BUSINESS
  • MIDLAND COIN CLUB
  • MIDLAND COMMUNITY DAY NURSERY
  • MIDLAND COUNTY FAMILIES-IN-ACTION
  • MIDLAND COUNTY YOUNG LAWYERS
  • MIDLAND EXXON CLUB
  • MIDLAND FOUNDATION INC-TEXAS
  • MIDLAND INDEPENDENT ADULT SOCCER
  • MIDLAND LEE YOUTH CENTER INC
  • MIDLAND MUNICIPAL POLICE OFFICERS
  • MIDLAND TEXAS ALUMNAE CHAPTER OF
  • MIDLAND VOLUNTEER AUXILIARY TO THE
  • MIDLAND WIRRAL SISTER CITY ASSOC
  • MIDLAND YOUNG LIFE BUILDING
  • MIDLAND-ODESSA TRANSPLANT EDUCATION
  • MM CYBERTECH GROUP
  • MUSEUM HELPING HANDS INCORPORATED
  • NATURAL GAS PRODUCERS ASSOCIATION
  • NEWCORP RESOURCES ELECTRIC
  • NOAHS ARK ANIMAL RESCUE & REFUGE OF
  • PALMER DRUG ABUSE PROGRAM-TRAINING
  • PATHWAYS TO A BETTER LIFE INC
  • PEGASUS CLUB OF MIDLAND
  • PERMIAM BASIN CELTIC HERITAGE
  • PERMIAN BASIN AIDS COALITION
  • PERMIAN BASIN AUTO CLUB
  • PERMIAN BASIN CHAPTER OF THE
  • PERMIAN BASIN CHAPTER OF THE
  • PERMIAN BASIN CHAPTER OF THE
  • PERMIAN BASIN COOK-OFF INC
  • PERMIAN BASIN COUNCIL FOR THE
  • PERMIAN BASIN CRITICAL INCIDENT
  • PERMIAN BASIN MEASUREMENT SOCIETY
  • PERMIAN BASIN MEISTERSINGERS
  • PERMIAN BASIN OILMANS BASS
  • PERMIAN BASIN OPEN ASSOCIATION
  • PERMIAN BASIN PAWN BROKERS
  • PERMIAN BASIN WOMENS GOLF
  • PERMIAN CHAPTER OF CREDIT UNIONS
  • PRAIRIE HAVEN INC
  • PROMOTING HOPE INC
  • RADIO MINISTRIES
  • RANCHLAND HILLS WOMENS GOLF
  • RENWOOD PRODUCTIONS INC
  • SERENITY GROUP
  • SOCIETY OF ST VINCENT DE PAUL
  • SOUTH EAST NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION
  • SOUTHWEST LYNX SYSTEM INC
  • SPINA BIFIDA ASSOCITION OF TEXAS
  • SPIRIT OF SALVATION MINISTRIES INC
  • TALL CITY BASEBALL ASSOCIATION INC
  • TALL CITY ROAD RIDERS
  • TEXAS AND SOUTHWESTERN COLLECTORS
  • TEXAS EXTENSION EDUCATION
  • TEXAS FAITH-BASED CENTERS FOR
  • TEXAS FEDERATION OF WOMENS CLUBS
  • THE MISSY RASNICK MEMORIAL
  • UPTOWN BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL
  • VANCE MCDONALD EVANGELISTIC ASSN
  • VISUAL IMPROVEMENT PROJECT INC
  • WEST TEXAS CRIME PREVENTION
  • WEST TEXAS EARTH RESOURCES
  • WEST TEXAS EPILEPSY ASSOCIATION INC
  • WEST TEXAS FREEDOM CORPORATION
  • WEST TEXAS OLD FIGHTER PILOTS FOR
  • WEST TEXAS WRITERS INCORPORATED
  • YDF
  • YOUTH CRISIS CENTER INC
  • ZETA PHI BETA SORORITY INC

I see that the Midland Reporter Telegram is officially supporting Clayton Williams's request to pump and sell to Midland more than 40 million gallons of water each day from his land west of Fort Stockton. The Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District board begins hearings today to consider the issue, which has huge ramifications for a variety of stakeholders.

The MRT's editorialist acknowledges that competing interests make compelling arguments for and against this transfer of our region's most precious resource.

Nevertheless, we think Williams' plan stands the test of Texas law and science. First, Texas tradition allows property owners to harvest, ship and sell goods coming from the owned property. Oil is a good example. Property owners share in oil revenue as royalty owners when oil is discovered on their property. We see little difference in this model here with the exception that Williams plans to do the harvesting of the water himself rather than through an investor such as an oil company.

I'm not a lawyer or an expert in the area of Texas water and mineral rights, but I do question the analogy to the oil industry. While it's true that mineral owners in Texas have the right to capture the oil and gas under the acreage they own, that right is not unlimited. There are laws and regulations designed to protect adjacent mineral owners from drainage of their property by another owner.

In addition, there are also laws and regulations governing how water can be taken from surface streams and rivers. As far as I know, a private landowner does not have an unrestricted right to dam a river and take all the water from to the detriment of those living downstream. In the sense that the aquifer in question in Pecos County can be likened to an underground stream, there's a legitimate question as to whether the kind of pumping proposed by Williams is encroaching on the rights of those landowners "downstream." (It's an indisputable fact that formerly free-flowing springs to the east - the direction the aquifer extends - dry up when pumping begins.)

The idea that granting the pumping permit is consistent with current law might mean that perhaps the law itself needs to be revisited. If this issue ends up in the Supreme Court, as some think, a fresh look at an old law might be the most useful outcome.
Anyone driving slower than me is an idiot.
Anyone driving faster than me is a jerk.
 --Unknown
The preceding observation is perhaps the best reason that the proposal to create a 24-hour hotline that allows Texans to report bad drivers is a bad idea. I fear that many of us lack the objectivity and discipline to distinguish dangerous drivers from those who are simply ill-mannered (or whose driving habits just differ from ours).

I doubt that any law enforcement office in the state is adequately staffed to deal with the flood of calls regarding someone's idea of "dangerous driving," and I don't understand how response time could be adequate to deal with a truly dangerous situation. In addition, there's the possibility for abuse. Your neighbor parked his trash can on your side of the property line? Well, just call him in for "dangerous driving." How about if the car in front of you is sporting a bumper sticker for the "wrong" college, or the driver is of the "wrong" ethnic group? Without some accountability built into the process, those things alone could lead someone to file a report.

Then there's the subjective assessment of what constitutes "dangerous driving." The guy who routinely rolls the stop sign at the end of your lightly-traveled cul-de-sac is in technical violation of the law, but is he driving dangerously?

In fairness, according to the above-linked report, this idea seems to have some traction with local law enforcement officials, so I'm obviously missing something. I simply worry that a law like this shifts the ability to be a jerk and/or an idiot from the steering wheel to the cell phone.

Quantifying Melodic Similarities
December 6, 2010 12:45 PM | Posted in: ,

I read a science fiction short story many years ago where the plot involved someone composing the last possible piece of music. Every combination of musical notes had been created. I don't recall the author (it sounds like something Bradbury or Lieber or Ellison would come up with), or even the rest of the plot and how it was resolved, but I do remember thinking how sad it would be - and that this was not an impossible scenario. There are a finite number of note combinations. That number is, of course, staggeringly large (someone has made a pretty convincing attempt to compute it) but given enough time, we could run out of melodies.

This came to mind as I continued to think about this post about the obvious (to me, anyway) similarities between songs by Joe Ely and Toby Keith. Rob left a comment linking to another comparison of two similar songs; that comparison involved an analysis that went well beyond simply hearing a tune and thinking it sounded very familiar.

And then I began to wonder what the criteria are for determining whether a melody is so similar to another that it can be deemed a violation of copyright. I suspect it's a pretty subjective judgment - but is it unnecessarily so? Music and mathematics have much in common, more so than I understand, and surely there's a way to perform an objective computation that would spit out a "percentage match" between two songs. And, indeed, a Google search for "mathematical comparison of two melodies" turns up a number of scholarly articles on the subject.

Then there's this article with the enchanting title of Statistical Comparison Measures for Searching in Melody Databases (PDF format). Such research has undoubtedly informed the technology behind such music identification software as Shazam and SoundHound, which are so scarily effective as to be, as they say, indistinguishable from magic. In fact, Slate described in layman's terms the approach employed by Shazam:

The company has a library of more than 8 million songs, and it has devised a technique to break down each track into a simple numeric signature--a code that is unique to each track. "The main thing here is creating a 'fingerprint' of each performance," says Andrew Fisher, Shazam's CEO. When you hold your phone up to a song you'd like to ID, Shazam turns your clip into a signature using the same method. Then it's just a matter of pattern-matching--Shazam searches its library for the code it created from your clip; when it finds that bit, it knows it's found your song.

Obviously, it's much more complicated than that, and Shazam's co-founder, Avery Li-Chun Wang, published a scholarly paper (PDF) describing the technology in more detail. And as good as Shazam is, some think SoundHound works even better (it will also identify melodies that are simply sung into a microphone). Unfortunately, SoundHound's explanation of its technology laps over into the magical realm with its references to "Target Crystals," and the company is obviously protecting intellectual property.

In any event, I wonder if these math-based, objective comparisons of melodies have ever been used in a court of law to determine copyright infringement, and if there are any quantified guidelines to be used by judges and juries in making such calls. Gee, if there was only some way of searching a database...

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